Hall of Fame Candidate
Matt Willson

The man behind the player
The player behind the man

Matt Willson was nominated for election into the first Hall of Fame class of the Simulation Football League.  Many other players were as well. What sets Matt apart from those other candidates? What makes him different?  To answer these questions, of course you need to look at the product he has put on the field – the results, the stats, the wins, the losses, etc.  However, I feel it’s important to take a large step back and take a look at more than just what Matt Willson – the Quarterback of the Mexico City Aztecs – has done during his time in the SFL, and instead also take a look at the man behind the player and his story that brought him to the league in the first place.  After that, you can have a better understanding of what makes the player behind the man so incredibly special.

Matt Willson was born back in May of 1981.  Yes – we’re stepping back that far. Matt had an extremely rare birth defect that caused a tumor to grow in his spinal cord.  Not on it – in it. That made it impossible to completely remove. That tumor has since taken away all of Matt’s mobility. But this isn’t a sob story.  This is a story of success, and overcoming the odds. I’ve known Matt personally for 28 years. He’s my best friend. We grew up and spent our childhoods together.  Matt has always had a passion for football. Some of my favorite childhood memories are from before the time that Matt’s mobility was completely gone. While the tumor limited his movement and functionality, he was still able to play some football with me in my parent’s front yard.  He would game plan and scheme, helping us come up with the best plan to beat the neighbor kids even though they didn’t have the physical limitations.. My point is, while it was certainly discouraging for Matt to be physically limited, he never let that stop him. He adapted, and he overcame.

We’ve both been lifelong Buffalo Bills fans (in fact, if you listen to any of our broadcasts, you’ll notice that we both seem a little bit pained anytime we see a field goal sail wide right… we can’t help it, you’ll just have to accept it).  Matt enjoys the game from the entertainment standpoint, but even more so he enjoys the strategy involved in game planning, offseason moves, trades, and everything else that goes into the development of a successful team. I’ve had the honor of being able to spend one day a week with Matt just about every week for the past decade now.  Every week we sit and play football games for hours – scheming, planning, drafting, trading. All to make the best team possible. Once we’ve succeeded, we switch to the worst team in the league and try and fix it.

Matt has a football mind that no physical limitation can impair.  Once joining the Mexico City Aztecs, owner Ramos Lynn quickly realized the football IQ that Matt was bringing to his team.  Ramos made him a co-owner and when recently asked about what Matt brings to the table he said “He is super intelligent and dedicated. He is the architect of the current Aztecs.”  Ramos was happy to let Matt take the reins on building the team that ultimately won the season 9 championship game. Ramos said “He is the best. Always the first player to congratulate the team after a win and the first to motivate them after a loss.”  

I sat down will Matt and team owner Ramos to find out more details about Matt’s SFL journey.

Mike: How did you find out about the SFL?
Matt: I actually found the league through one of our current co-owners, Ryan Moody. I was a big 2K fan and was discouraged with the current climate of video game football. In particular the simulation style. He sent out a tweet with a link to this game on Twitch.  I knew nothing about the its contents, but once I saw the quality of the product on the field, and of course the voice of our great Commissioner, I was hooked.

Mike: How did you get involved as a player?
Matt: I joined the SFL In the winter 2016 season. It was the first season where we had a user player draft.
Ramos:  After a Santa Fe game, he sent me a messaged asking if I was looking for a user player for Season 6, and that is how we got him signed as a QB in the third round of the Season 6 draft.

Mike:  What made you reach out to Ramos and inquire about joining his team?
Matt:  Watching throughout the summer 2015 season, Santa Fe stuck out to me. They had a tenacious defense, along with a prolific passing attack. Plus, they were a winning team. Call me a bandwagon jumper, but I like being involved with winners. I messaged Ramos during that season and asked if he was looking to draft any user players for the upcoming Draft. He said he had 2 openings, either running back or quarterback. Needless to say, I believe I made the right choice. Throughout the years, Ramos has become a friend and the utmost professional in dealing with both myself, and the franchise in general. I couldn’t have accomplished anything without his unwavering support.

Mike:  You’ve won a championship game last season.  That’s the top honor in the league right now.  Now you’re up for Hall of Fame honors. What else, as a player, do you feel is your biggest accomplishment in the league so far:
Matt:  That’s a tough question, as winning that championship was extremely important to me personally. When I joined the team, they barely lost to the DC Dragons the season before. My first season was rough, and I was worried that we would never get back. After that first season, we made it to the playoffs quite a few times, but were never able to make it back to the championship. Last season, Ramos was kind enough to let me take the lead in signing talent and balancing the team. As a quarterback, I took a substantial pay cut to let talent like Ray Bentley shine. It was a calculated risk, but we both thought that roster had a great chance to be successful. Luckily it paid off, and we won the championship. As exuberant as I was, I was more happy for Ramos. It meant more for me help win it for him than it did to win it for myself.
Ramos:  His body of work speaks for himself, he is close to the top on all passing categories. Can make throws no other QB can and his leadership.

Mike:  Do you have a favorite game, moment, or play from your time in the SFL?
Matt:  My favorite game will always be my first come back as a quarterback. It was winter 2016, the second game of the season against Carolina. Down 28 to 16 in the 4th, with 7 minutes 18 seconds remaining things were looking pretty grim. Luckily, with some help from my teammates, we were able to turn the tables. With under 2 minutes, I led a drive that was capped off with a 71 yard pass to fellow Hall of Fame candidate Nick T Quick to seal the game. It was one of most exciting moments of my life, and I was glad the Commissioner was there to make the iconic call.
Ramos:  There are a lot, but for me it has to be his touchdown pass to K.L. Barrett in the Season 9 Championship game, because at that moment I knew we were going to finally win it.

Mike:  Matt, how has being in the SFL made an impact on your life?
Matt:  The SFL has made a huge impact upon my life. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout the years. The league has been a shining star in many moments of depression or self-doubt. The positive comments from the SFL family, have lifted, and continue to lift me up greatly.

Mike:  Do you feel that the SFL has been able to fill a void that your physical disability has prevented you from participating in in the “real world”?
Matt:  I feel quite a few members of the community know of my disability from the SFL documentary. I suffer from a irremovable spinal cord tumor that is taken away all of my mobility, and continues to bring up new challenges every day. I’ve always been a huge sports fan, football particularly. However, besides a few flag football games in high school, I was never able to participate. I was always a competitor though, channeling my energies through other people or situations. I once coached my sister for the Empire state games, a New York-based Olympic style competition, in track. I knew nothing about coaching sprinters. However, through great due diligence I was able to improve her time tremendously, making the finals in New York City. In my beginnings of the SFL, I was happy enough being a player. The rush of adrenaline as your name is called was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. To me, it’s as real as it gets. The league filled a giant void in my life, where I wasn’t able to compete physically in any sports. As my time in the league has continued I’ve tried to assist wherever I am able. This includes the commentary booth, where I’ve been having a great time. I owe the Commissioner, Cameron Irvine, so much. He is greatly improved the quality of my life with this exceptional product.

That’s the man behind the player.  A football IQ like none other that I’ve seen.  A man who’s ability to play in the game he loves so dearly was cut short by a tumor that slowly destroyed his mobility.  Then the player behind the man. It may be simulation football, but to Matt this is his chance to live the life he was denied at birth.  He’s now the all-time leader in 4th quarter comebacks in the SFL – just like he’s my personal all time leader in comebacks in life in general.  Matt has now been able to take that love for the game and apply it somewhere that lets him live vicariously as a professional quarterback, general manager, owner, leader, mentor, and now broadcaster – all thanks to the Simulation Football League. This league is a place that Matt will always hold near and dear to his heart.